Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong – Part I

One of the main attractions for tea lovers in Hong Kong is the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware. It is located in the island on the Hong Kong Park.

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Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, the entrance door is on the center of the building

From the museum official website we have the following information: “Built in the 1840s, Flagstaff House originally served as the office and residence of the Commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong. It was converted to the Museum of Tea Ware in 1984, with a new wing, The K.S. Lo Gallery, added in 1995. Alongside its exhibitions, the Museum holds regular demonstrations, tea gatherings and lecture programs to promote ceramic art and Chinese tea drinking culture”.

The best way to get to the museum is through the metro (MTR) Admiralty station stop. On the Admiralty station take the 1C exit, turn right and follow the signs to the Hong Kong Park.

Map of the Admiralty MTR station indicating exit C1 and the museum is on the right.

Map of the Admiralty station indicating exit C1. The museum is on the right.

On the entrance of the museum there are small samples of tea to show color, shape and texture; utensils for tea brewing and tea serving. Since the building was a house/office it contains many rooms in two floors.

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One of the rooms have the traditional round tea table and benches. The displays are on the walls.

One of the rooms is for the children play. It has Tea Toys made out of wood. The idea is to start  the tea education of the children early, as a play.

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Tearoom for the children with Tea Toys to play.

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The two Oolong cups: Man and Woman – Creativity on the answer

When I lived in China was fascinated with the beauty of the tea cups, particularly the Oolong cups. Tiny, elegant and nicely crafted. The typical setup is one tall cup and one small cup in a little tray. I was always asking to my Chinese friend: why the two cups? why the two cups? My friend would not answer me. After going to more tea shops my friend one day said: the tall cup is for the man and the short cup for the woman. OK, interesting story.

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Two Oolong cups: on the left the drinking cup and on the right the scent cup. Both are in a small ceramic tray.

Later I was able to go to a tea shop in Macau and had the Oolong Gongfu tea ceremony, where I learned that the tall cup is the scent (or sniffing) cup and the small cup is the drinking cup. With time I understood that my Chinese friend didn’t want to loose face by saying “I don’t know” and used his creativity to give an answer. It is like saying: “a wrong answer is better than no answer”.

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On the left the scent cup is filled with tea. The drinking cup is put on the top of the sniffing cup and inverted (picture on the right).

Now the scent cup is removed from the drinking cup (left) and we can sniff the cup to enjoy the tea aroma. On the right the drinking cup is full of tea to be appreciated. Enjoy the tea!

Now the scent cup is removed from the drinking cup (left) and we can sniff the cup to enjoy the tea aroma. On the right the drinking cup is full of tea to be appreciated. Enjoy the tea!

What is a Tea? Te, Chay or Cha?

There a lot of definitions of what is a Tea. My version is the following: In sensu stricto, tea is an infusion of the Camellia sinensis leaves and leaf buds. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name of the plant that produces tea. Oolong, green, white and black teas are examples of these teas.

In sensu amplo, the word tea is an infusion of seeds, roots, flowers, bark, fruits, leaves, spices and its combinations. It is common to call the non Camellia sinensis teas “herbal teas” or “tisanes”. The “tisanes” are typically non-caffeinated brews.

Usually when we say the single word tea, we are talking about regular black tea. All other teas have two words to describe the type of tea, e.g., Masala Tea, Honey Dew Tea, Ginger Tea, Lemongrass Tea, Mint Tea, etc.
If you are in a foreign and want to order a tea, one of the three words (te, chay or cha) will get you a tea. What is called commonly tea may have a different way to brew and serve from country to country, but it will be a tea.

The name Camellia is the Latinized surname of the botanist Georg Kamel, and sinensis means Chinese in latin.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

Tea shops near the Yu Garden, Shanghai, China

In the surroundings of the Yu Garden (aka as Yu Yang) in Shanghai there are many tea shops mostly for tourists that want to taste different teas and buy some for use or as a gift. For many people this is the first time they experience the Chinese teas. The shop area is an old part of the town that keeps the traditional buildings in very good shape and clean.

Typical street view on the area near the Yu Garden. The traditional buildings on the foreground and the new constructions on the background create a nice cultural contrast

The tea quality is average to good, enough to be a nice drinkable tea. In the shops they always serve free tea. They make nice demonstrations on how to prepare and drink tea. Visitors sit around the table to enjoy the teas without obligation to buy. It is always fun to go to those stores and spend time tasting teas, also buying gifts, ceramic and utensils for tea making. There are always something to enjoy and learn.

In this nice store you can find all the ceramic and utensils to make tea. There are a significant price difference between the common and high quality items

Here are few pictures of a typical tea shop. The key area is a large wood table carved with multiple levels. The table has a place to brew the tea, serve and store all accessories for tea making. The water is heated with the electric kettle allowing to have always the water in the proper temperature for each type of tea. There are channels in the carved wood to collect the water spilled from the cups. The water is directed to small holes that convey the water to the bottom of the table where it is collected in a glass container.

Nice tea shop with the solid wood table and benches. The store is well lit

Top view of the table. The hot water bottle is on the left, the tea utensils on the middle and large tea can on the top right

The stores usually have many types of teas, ceramic pots and wood utensils. Most of them have everything needed for tea starters.
It is typical to have girls serving and selling tea. They are very polite, educated and speak good English. They have a reasonable knowledge of the teas and know how to sell pretty well. The tea packaging is very nice, either in nice boxes or cans.

The tea for sale are stored nicely on either metal or glass containers. The containers are tightly closed to avoid drying